Aeration: Can You Really Live Without It?

Most retailers would probably agree grain aeration systems have been an easy sell this year because of all the rain, but should farmers look at aeration storage as a key component of a farm operation every year, regardless of the weather? The downside is equipping the majority of bins on a farm with aeration systems can increase overall grain storage costs, however, it’s possible farmers could see a payback on that investment.

“Farmers want to know how it (the extra investment) is going to benefit their operations,” says Derek Johnson, sales manager for the Keho Aeration Systems, Grain Guard and Twister brands. There are a couple of ways that can happen.

First, as bin sizes continue to grow the value of grain stored in each one climbs, and the risk of spoilage also increases with capacity, particularly for crops like canola. The financial losses can be high, even if spoilage is confined to a single bin. “If you have a 4,000 bushel bin full of canola at $10 per bushel, that’s $40,000,” says Johnson. “It’s not just about harvesting tough grain, it’s about maintaining the quality of dry grain through proper conditioning.”

In some cases bins can be purchased — or retrofitted — with aeration systems for roughly ten percent of the value of the grain stored inside them in a single season. But once the system is in place, it becomes a long-term asset. “The fan and aeration system aren’t going anywhere,” says Johnson. An aeration system should last as long as the bin it’s in, which makes for relatively low-cost insurance.

ADDED HARVEST CAPACITY

And adding to a farm’s existing aeration capacity may make good economic sense in another way, too. If farmers have the ability to safely store damp grain and eventually dry it, that can effectively lengthen the harvest season and stretch the capacity of a combine.

If producers include drying as a regular part of harvesting, there is an opportunity to start sooner and greatly extend the season, according information published by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI). “A grain dryer can substantially increase the number of available harvesting hours and days in most areas, and could also reduce the overall investment in machinery. A smaller combine plus a dryer could be used instead of buying a second combine or trading up to a larger one.”

But in order to do that, farms will need substantial aeration capacity to store damp grain until it can be dried. Spoilage problems caused by hot spots and insect infestations can be reduced or eliminated by proper drying and aeration in storage, according to the report.

And it says getting a combine into the field early may also reduce field losses. “Over-drying of crops in the field, which leads to shattering and crop loss, can also be prevented by earlier harvesting.”

The cost reductions from eliminating a second combine, reducing hired labour and minimizing field losses would go a long way toward paying for additional aeration systems, if not leave a lot left over.

“With farms getting larger, there are always more demands on a producer’s time,” says Johnson. Adding additional aeration capacity and a dryer may be the equivalent of buying time at harvest. Just taking some of the pressure off producers who often have to scramble to finish harvest while good weather lasts could be a real advantage.

But Johnson recommends doing your homework and investing the time to develop a crop-storage plan before purchasing any aeration system. There are a variety of options available, each with different price ranges. Basing a buying decision on price alone may leave you with something that won’t work well in a specific application. Bin dimensions and type of crops stored can affect system requirements.

About the author

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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